The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

Review published on May 23, 2013. Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

In the summer of 1961 Laurel is sixteen years old and hiding out in a tree-house while her family is having a birthday picnic near by. She is dreaming about a boy she’s met, her plans for the future and reluctant to interrupt her private thoughts in order to join her family in the festivities. Her peace and quiet come to a shocking end though when an unknown man walks up to their house, where he encounters Laurel’s mother who is carrying both her two year old son and a knife to slice the birthday cake with. The next thing Laurel sees is the man reaching for her brother followed by her mother raising the knife and stabbing the man. Although Laurel gives evidence to the police, the shocking killing is never revealed to her siblings and not mentioned again. And soon Laurel leaves home to pursue her dreams and although she never forgets what she saw, the memories fade into the background.

Fifty years later Laurel’s mother, Dorothy, is ninety years old and dying. The realisation that she will soon lose the last of her parents and any opportunity she ever had of discovering what exactly happened that day in the past and why, Laurel sets out on a quest to uncover her mother’s past and the events that lead to the killing. Because Laurel has always known more about the incident than she revealed to the police at the time. She knows that her mother knew the man she killed. And now she needs to know who the man was, why he scared her mother enough for her to raise that knife and, most importantly, if her mother really is the wonderful woman she has always known or some stranger with a secret and possibly horrible past. Laurel’s quest will take her to the first years of World War II, a young woman with big dreams and even bigger disappointments and a remarkable revelation.

This book was pretty much what I expected it to be. A very well written exploration of a secret past. As in Morton’s previous books she takes a mysterious and secret event that has happened a long time ago and has one character slowly but carefully uncover the threads that lead to a solution that is both credible and completely unexpected. And as always, she does it very well.

The same can be said for Kate Morton’s characters. There are no one-dimensional characters in her books. All of them have their good and their bad qualities, none of them are completely likable or hateful and quite a few of them are not at all what they at first seem to be. This makes for both a more believable story and a very satisfying reading experience. With the characters as well as the story-line being unpredictable the reader is kept guessing until the very end. They may think they know what happened and what the final revelation will look like, but they are almost certainly going to be wrong. Just when everything appears to have been revealed, the author has one or two further surprises in store for her readers. Surprises that bring the story to a, for me, very satisfying conclusion; one that brought a smile to my face.

I know I will continue to read Kate Morton’s books as long as she keeps on writing them.

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